Modern Mongolian Nomads – Meet Naraa and Bujee
January 7, 2019
Thousand Camel Festival winter camel trek
Mongolia’s Thousand Camel Festival
February 21, 2019

Tsagaan Sar – Mongolian Lunar New Year

The Mongolian Lunar New Year, known as Tsagaan Sar or “White Month,” holds significant cultural importance. It occurs on the second new moon following the winter solstice, marking the beginning of the new year. During this traditional holiday, spanning a minimum of three days, families come together in a celebration of reunion and tradition.

What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

In the words of Amaraa: ‘It’s a great holiday for Mongolians to welcome spring having passed through the  harsh winter.’ Following in similar words is Zumbee ‘It is Mongolia’s biggest traditional ceremony. It symbolises the first day of spring when winter ends and temperatures begin to get warmer.’ It is also one of the oldest festivals celebrated in Mongolia. As Mishka says, ‘It is a very respectful holiday, especially for the younger generation. As we celebrate Tsagaan Sar, it gives us a connection with the traditions and customs of our ancestors and how these were inherited by future generations. It is a chance to meet close and far relatives and meeting newborns in our whole family.’

 

Prior To Tsagaan Sar  (in brief, you clean!)

  • Prior to Tsagaan Sar, Mongolians embark on a thorough cleaning spree, preparing for the upcoming national holiday. This cleaning ritual extends beyond homes, apartments, or gers, with even the streets receiving attention. It’s a time for redecoration too, as families invest in new carpets or rugs to adorn their walls. Alongside new household items, acquiring new clothing is also customary during this pre-Tsagaan Sar period.

Mongolian boots

  • Mongolians engage in thorough cleaning prior to Tsagaan Sar as a symbolic act of clearing out the old year, both literally and metaphorically. It’s a time for reconciliation and closure, where old quarrels are resolved, and outstanding debts are settled. Tsagaan Sar serves as a unifying moment for family and friends, allowing them to set aside past grievances and start anew. By leaving behind previous problems and entering the New Year with a fresh perspective, Mongolians embrace the spirit of renewal and harmony.
What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

One tradition mentioned by Pujee is that: ‘people don’t argue with each other. It is forbidden during Tsagaan Sar.’  As Tsagaan Sar is celebrated by Mongolians all previous things pass away with the previous year. As the new crescent moon rises so the new year starts – positive and white (or clean). During Tsagaan Sar you should not be angry, greedy, or sad. You clear your mind and spirit of all negative things and open it up to pure clean positive thoughts.

 

Bituun | New Year’s Eve  (in brief, prepare and then eat a lot of mutton dumplings)

  • Bituun, or New Year’s Eve, marks the culmination of the current lunar year, symbolised by the invisible moon and total darkness. In preparation for Tsagaan Sar, Mongolian families prepare hundreds of buuz, traditional Mongolian dumplings, which are then frozen until steamed for guests. Tsagaan Sar is a time for honouring family elders, and the abundance of buuz prepared reflects respect for the eldest members of the family. On bituun, people indulge in hearty feasting, as it’s believed that entering the new year on a full stomach ensures plenitude and prosperity in the year ahead.

This is bituun in the words of our guest Ross Briggs:

‘On to our hosts, the Zorgio family.  We are invited into the main ger, it is beautiful.  Centre at the back of the ger is the Tsagaan Sar feast.  A stack of large biscuits, 9 high topped with dried cheeses, dried yoghurt, white sweets and sugar cubes.  Around this are plates of buuz, potato salad, pressed mutton, salami and gherkins, pickled vegetables, a large bowl of sweets and beverages.  The eldest daughter serves us individually, milk tea first followed by airag (here it is fermented camel milk, I like it) followed by all the dishes and beverages ending with a shot of vodka.  The hospitality is marvellous.’

Say hello to Bayaraa! One of my female Mongolian trip assistants during Tsagaan Sar - Mongolian Lunar New Year. Most Mongolians will buy a a new del (traditional Mongolian coat) for their Tsagaan Sar - Mongolian Lunar New Year.

What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

Baaska says New Year’s Eve is known as the ‘black day’ (bituunii udur) because ‘there is no moon’. As the first crescent of the new moon rises in the sky,  Tsagaan Sar begins (New Year’s Day is known as Shiniin Negiin) and ‘celebrates the white days and white month. It is about acknowledging the old year having passed and being ready to face a good new white year. For Tsagaan Sar, all people should stay healthy, friendly helpful and together.’

 

Shiniin Negen | New Year’s Day  (in brief, honour the spirits and honour your family)

Tsagaan Sar | Mongolian Lunar New Year sunrise

  • On the morning of the New Year, before sunrise, every member of the household gathers to welcome the dawn. Traditionally, the male head of the household pays homage to the nature and spirits of Mongolia by visiting an ovoo, a stone shrine situated atop a hill or mountain. Bringing food and offerings, the eldest member expresses gratitude and reverence to the spirit of the mountain and its surroundings. The sunrise of New Year’s Day in Mongolia holds dual significance: bidding farewell to the old and ushering in the new. Many bring offerings such as milk, rice, and juniper. Initially, in the pre-dawn darkness, the focus is on releasing the past. As the sun ascends, the new year is joyously welcomed. Turuu often remarks on the crisp, clean air of the first day of Tsagaan Sar, signifying the successful passage of winter and the arrival of spring.

Traditions Of New Year’s Day

  • To ensure health and happiness in the new year, it’s customary for each individual to take their “first steps of the New Year” in a direction determined by their lunar year of birth and the current year. Starting the year in the right direction is believed to be crucial for prosperity and well-being.
  • After taking these symbolic first steps, family members gather back inside the home to begin the Tsagaan Sar greetings. Among the various traditions observed on this day, one significant custom is the passing of the snuff bottle, symbolising new friendships and honouring loved ones.
  • A particularly formal tradition is the “zolgokh” greeting, where younger family members demonstrate respect and support for their senior relatives by placing their arms under theirs and holding their elbows. This gesture is accompanied by presenting a khadag, a blue sacred scarf, which is used throughout the Tsagaan Sar period. The traditional greeting exchanged during these interactions is “Ta amar mend baina uu?” which translates to “How are you doing?” The response to this greeting is “Amar mendee,” meaning “I am fine, I am good.”

This is New Year’s Day in the words of our guest Ross Briggs:

‘Shine Negiin (New Year’s Day) sees everyone together for zolgokh, a ceremony to show respect and support for your elders. The eldest person is the mother of the Zorgio family, she has pride of place and I, being the second eldest, sit beside her.  The rest of the family form a line around the inside of the ger in age order and start by greeting the mother first and then me.  Being the eldest we are supported at our elbows, the greeting ‘amar mend uu’ is exchanged, and we kiss the cheeks of all the others.  The line folds on its self until everyone has greeted each other, the younger person with their hands under the elbows of the older.  I feel very honoured to be included in this very Mongolian ceremony.’

The Zorgio family, Tsagaan Sar, Mongolian Lunar New Year

The Zorgio Family from Tsagaan Suvraga and our hosts during our Tsagaan Sar Insight experience. Image: EL guest Ross Briggs

What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

As well as marking the change from winter to the early beginnings of spring, Tuya mentions that Tsagaan Sar is also considered a ‘very special time to see relatives’. It has a similar meaning for Unuruu; ‘It is a time for family reunions, for family bonding, respecting elders and having a big traditional party. Also, it is a big chance for relatives to meet and talk about the year just finished.’ Unuruu also mentioned that ‘one of the nicest parts is serving her family’s handmade buuz (dumplings) and other meals and welcoming  new additions to the family – whether that be a baby, brother-in-law or sister-in-law.’

 

The Tsagaan Sar Table  (In brief, mutton!)

  • In addition to buuz, Mongolians traditionally prepare two other important dishes for Tsagaan Sar. Alongside the iconic dumplings, another staple is boov, a traditional Mongolian bread. Boov, akin to biscuits made from flour, complements the festive spread, offering a delightful accompaniment to the celebratory feast.

  • The boov holds symbolic significance in its presentation during Tsagaan Sar. These bread layers are stacked in odd numbers—such as three or five—as odd numbers are associated with happiness. Moreover, the height of the boov stack reflects respect, with taller stacks symbolising greater reverence for older family members. The number of boov layers also indicates the status of the family, determined by the age of the parents and the number of their children. To enhance its visual appeal, the boov is adorned with aaruul (Mongolian dried cheese) and small sweets.
  • Furthermore, a notable feature of the Tsagaan Sar table is the presence of a whole sheep’s back, including the fat from its tail. Mongolians aim to cook a sheep with the largest possible tail, symbolising wishes for family wealth and prosperity. This sheep’s back, served throughout the holiday, serves as a tangible representation of these hopes for abundance and well-being.
The Nergui Family | Tsagaan Sar | Mongolian Lunar New Year

The Nergui family from Erdenedalai and our hosts during our Tsagaan Sar Insight experience.

 

What Does Tsagaan Sar Mean To Our Team

 Pujee says that ‘Tsagaan Sar is the first day of spring and the last day of winter. It is a very special holiday for Mongolians – our national holiday that we have been celebrating for many hundreds of years. The best thing about Tsagaan Sar is that it provides a  good opportunity to do something with and be together with our families. Before Tsagaan Sar we have to clean all things including our home, clothes and our mind. We have to make boov (traditional Mongolian bread – basically biscuits made of flour) – and dumplings. We make these together as friends and family. Each family member has an important task to do something. For example, some people prepare the flour, other the dumplings and often the children count how many dumplings they made etc. Tsagaan Sar  allows Mongolian people to spend a lot of time with their family.’

 

If you’re interested in experiencing the Tsagaan Sar festivities with Eternal Landscapes, you can discover more details on our website. Visit https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/tsagaan-sar-mongolia-small-group-winter-trip/ for specific information about our Tsagaan Sar tour, or explore our winter tours page at https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolia-tours/mongolia-winter-tours/. We look forward to welcoming you. And as we say in Mongolia during Tsagaan Sar – ‘sar shinedee saikhan shineleerei’ meaning ‘may the new year bring you happiness and prosperity.’

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
Sign Up For Our Newsletter!

Penned by Jess, the founder of Eternal Landscapes, our newsletter is all about quality, not clutter. We respect your privacy—no spam, no sharing of your details, and no irrelevant offers. Expect updates once or twice a month, just enough to keep you intrigued without overwhelming your inbox.

We respect your privacy.